Page:National Life and Character.djvu/241

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
V
229
THE DECLINE OF THE FAMILY

the Norsemen as they are in modern China.[1] There was no limitation to this right, which belonged absolutely to the head of the family. In the case of the wife, or of children who had been acknowledged, the father had the rights of the magistrate; that is, he could not legitimately put to death, except for a grave and appropriate cause; but there was no recognised tribunal to which an appeal from his sentence would lie. These excessive powers over life imply an absolute authority over the person and property. The husband could lend his wife to a friend,[2] or choose a husband for his daughter and a wife for his son. He could make his children labour as he chose, and might neglect their education as he would. Neither wife nor children could possess property. He could adopt a stranger to share his children's inheritance. This, of course, is the extreme type of the family as it existed in the laws of Athens and Rome.[3] Extreme as it is, it has coloured all but the most modern legislation, except in the parts relating to life and death. So completely are we at variance with ancient morality on that score, that Rousseau is considered infamous for having allowed the State to care for his children; and Philip II. and Peter the Great are generally reprobated

  1. Coulanges, Cité Antique, p. 101. Compare Grimm, "Das erste und aelteste Recht des Vaters aeussert sicli gleich bei der Geburt des Kindes; er kann es aufnehmen oder aussetzen."—Deutsche Rechts - Alterthümer, S. 455.
  2. See the remarkable story in Plutarch, that Quintus Hortensius applied to Cato the Younger for the loan of his daughter, who was already married to Bibulus, and was finally gratified with the loan of Cato's wife, Martia, her father having been consulted. The loan, however, took the form of a gift for life, Martia being formally married to Hortensius, though, being left a widow, she married Cato again. Hortensius, it is said, had no object but to be connected with Cato's family.
  3. See generally on this subject the chapter on "L'Autorite" dans la famille," in the Cité Antique, by Coulanges, and Hearn's Aryan Household, chap. iv. 3.